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How Meaningful is Sustainable Development? Essay (Critical Writing)


The article “GRI Reporting and Camouflaging of Corporate Unsustainability” assesses the sustainability reporting by corporate organizations with regard to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) guidelines. The aim of the GRI sustainability guidelines outlined in the Brundtland report is to enable organizations to adhere to the principles of sustainable development (Moneva, Archel, and Correa 2006, 131).

However, evidence indicates that organizations apply the GRI guidelines to favor their interests ignoring the social and environmental aspects of sustainable development. Thus, to assess an organization’s commitment towards sustainability or sustainable practices, the concepts of weak and strong sustainability are important.

Sustainable development involves accounting and reporting of social and environmental indicators to promote measures towards sustainable development. Sustainability development and corporate social reporting (CSR) address the environmental and social effects of corporate organizations, but CSR incorporates the accounting aspect of development. Therefore, both of these methods cannot report sustainability appropriately.

The GRI guidelines, including the Triple Bottom Line reporting, evaluate sustainability more appropriately than the other methods. The guidelines report the performance of the environmental, social, and economic (Triple Bottom Line) aspects of sustainability reporting.

The GRI guidelines include the principles of unbiased organizational reporting with regard to its economic, social, and environmental performance.

The principles include transparency regarding the organizational operations to earn trust of the society, inclusiveness, which entails the involvement of all the stakeholders and shareholders in decision-making, and audit by an external mechanism to enhance the credibility of the sustainability reports.

The authors argue that, performance indicators under the GRI reporting include the eco-efficiency (economic and environmental) and the eco-justice (social and economic) aspects of sustainable development, which are unbalanced when assessed separately. Integrated indicators on the other hand, combine the two indicators giving an appropriate way for organizational reporting on sustainable development.

Under the GRI guidelines, the economic, social, and environmental pillars of sustainability reporting are addressed separately. They recommend that, to achieve an acceptable view on sustainability reporting, which can be adopted by corporate organizations, the use of integrated indicators is important.

Critique of the Arguments

In the article, authors argue that the GRI guidelines do not provide a clear definition of sustainable development reporting, giving way to different interpretations of sustainable development by policymakers and corporate organizations.

Moreover, the authors argue that, the contradictions in the interpretations of sustainable development have contributed to the biased sustainable development reporting by organizations. However, I think that inasmuch as organizations strive to issue balanced sustainability reports, the stakeholders influence the reporting.

The main sustainability interests of the stakeholders such as the economic performance of the corporate organization and the future organizational challenges influence sustainability reporting. In addition, the authors argue that sustainable development should involve accounting to quantify the aspects of sustainability in economic terms.

The corporate social reporting (CSR) incorporates accounting practices in addition to the social and economic aspects of sustainability. However, the authors reject the CSR as an appropriate tool for corporate sustainability reporting on the basis that it does not allow value assessment.

In my opinion, the CSR in conjunction with sustainability development indicators provides an ideal method for sustainable development reporting by organizations.

The authors also propose that the indicators of sustainable development under the GRI guidelines are not sufficient in ensuring a complete and unbiased reporting of the sustainability development. They suggest an integrated system of indicators that can represent the diverse aspects of sustainability.

I, however, think that sustainability reporting should involve use of the indicators that are relevant to the reporting instead of integrated indicators. Sustainable development reporting encompasses identification of the topic followed by selection of the relevant indicators (Bell and Stephen 2008, 128).

The whole process should involve the use of the principles of balanced reporting, such as inclusiveness, external audit, transparency, and accountability.

The integrated indicators suggested by the authors involve new indicators that link the eco-efficiency and eco-justice indicators. The authors argue that companies tend to favor the eco-efficiency indicators to eco-justice ones and to promote the adoption of both of the two indicators, integrated indicators, which cut across the two indicators, are useful (Rogers, Jalal, and Boyd 2005, 213).

However, considering that indicators under the eco-justice category, particularly the social aspects of sustainable development, provide challenges in expressing them in economic terms, the integrated indicators cannot be effective.

The authors provide a lengthy discussion concerning the concept of sustainable development as outlined under the GRI guidelines and the contradictions in the interpretations of these guidelines by the corporate organizations. In my opinion, much of the information provided particularly on the concepts of sustainable development and GRI guidelines does not provide sufficient contribution to the main argument of the article.

The GRI framework and the principles of reporting serve less to support the authors’ arguments that the current GRI guidelines deter balanced sustainable development reporting.

The stakeholders, who in my opinion influence greatly the sustainable development reporting, should have been discussed more than the contents of the GRI guidelines. The shareholders influence the scope of the report and the report boundary with or without regard to the GRI guidelines giving rise to biased corporate sustainability reporting.

The authors, in my opinion, lay so much emphasis on the indicators of sustainability reporting at the expense of other GRI reporting guidelines. The economic, social, and environmental pillars and their impact on sustainability reporting are overemphasized. In the process, the authors are able to support their argument by identifying the weaknesses in the implementation of these indicators under the GRI guidelines.

The authors provide an overview of the pillars of sustainable development as provided under the GRI guidelines. They, however, go on to criticize these indicators as inadequate in the assessment of sustainability development reporting without offering alternative indicators of sustainability reporting.

Moreover, the authors suggest an integrated system that involves the same indicators. This, to me, is ambiguous in the sense that the indicators, so termed as ineffective by the authors, are still valuable in sustainability reporting.

Furthermore, the authors provide much literature to support their proposition of integrated indicators for sustainability reporting as opposed to the use of the indicators separately. Again, this argument is subjective according to my opinion because after pointing out the ineffectiveness of the current indicators in sustainability reporting, they suggest their model of an integrated system instead of providing alternative indicators.


In the recent past, globalization characterized by industrial growth has had great implications on the environment and social aspects of many countries. The three aspects of sustainable development viz. economic, social, and environmental aspects must be addressed in conjunction for countries to make significant progress towards sustainable development.

In my opinion, sustainable development is meaningful both nationally and at international level because countries cannot sustain economic growth without regard to the social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. Economic growth often has implications on the society and the environment and thus sustainable development must consider the social and environmental aspects.

Reference List

Bell, Simon, and Morse, Stephen. 2008. Sustainability Indicators: Measuring the Immeasurable. London: Earth Scan Publishers.

Moneva, Jose, Archel, Pablo, and Correa, Carmen. 2006. GRI and the camouflaging of Corporate Unsustainability. Accounting Forum 30, no. 2 (June): 121-137.

Rogers, Peter, Jalal, Kazi, and, Boyd, John. 2005. An Introduction to Sustainable Development. London: Glen educational foundation Inc.

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"How Meaningful is Sustainable Development?" IvyPanda, 15 Jan. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/how-meaningful-is-sustainable-development-critical-writing/.

1. IvyPanda. "How Meaningful is Sustainable Development?" January 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-meaningful-is-sustainable-development-critical-writing/.


IvyPanda. "How Meaningful is Sustainable Development?" January 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-meaningful-is-sustainable-development-critical-writing/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "How Meaningful is Sustainable Development?" January 15, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/how-meaningful-is-sustainable-development-critical-writing/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'How Meaningful is Sustainable Development'. 15 January.

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